Directed by Chandler Tuttle
Starring Patricia Clarkson, James Cosmo, Julie Hagerty
Chances are that if you’ve attended High School in the last 15 years or so you’ve probably read the short story Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut. Originally published in the early sixties, Harrison Bergeron is a staple of American classrooms, and a much beloved work by the second greatest American author, after Mark Twain.
The story tells the tale of Harrison Bergeron, who lived in a time when all people are equal. Not just in terms of rights and privileges, but in every way imaginable. No one is stronger, faster, or smarter than anyone else. Those with talents or skills are all handicapped with weights and mental disruptors to keep them from taking unfair advantage of their brains.
Harrison, an extraordinarily gifted young man, refuses to be handicapped, and as such he is arrested, locked away, and then escapes. Harrison takes over a television studio, declares himself the emperor of America, then flies with a ballerina.
(Not an actual film image.)
I won’t give away the ending, but it is pure Vonnegut, and will definitely serve to make you smile and worry at the same time.
Since then, there have been three movie versions of this short story produced. The first version stared (miscast) Sean Astin as Harrison, and took the story to strange and unfortunate places. In essence it reminds me of what I did with my friends after I first read the story, which was to basically sit around and try to figure out how this world could actually function. The producers of the first film clearly did the same, because they added and invented tons of new material, changed the setting and events, and basically created something that comes across as far more Orwellian than Vonnegutian…if that makes sense.
(The story describes Harrison as looking like Thor, not a hobbit.)
The second film version was a short film that, as far as I can tell, was only available to download for a short time online, and of which I could only find this image, which was enough to make me want to avoid it.
(Don’t stare back, or he’ll get you!)
Which brings me to this film, 2081, which claims to be not only based on Vonnegut’s original, but an almost shot for shot remake of the original short story. While it came out in 2009, I only became aware of it recently, and so thought I would sit down and give it a watch.
This is a film that, in many ways, lives up to the hype. It keeps it simple by sticking (almost) completely to the original plotline, including the ending. It also has done a much better job of casting actors than the original film version did above.
And there are a lot of names in this film too. For starters, Harrison’s parents are played by Julie Hagerty and James Cosmo, whom you might recognize from the films Airplane and Braveheart respectively.
The lead role of Harrison is played by Armie Hammer who had runs on television shows such as Reaper and Gossip Girl, and recently play two roles in the film The Social Network.
The other major role, that of United States Handicapper General Dianna Moon Glampers, is played by Radio talk show host Tammi Bruce. I won’t give her full bio here, but it is a darn interesting read. Not that I agree with all her politics or views, but she is a lovely study in modern contradictions.
As I said, the film is fairly accurate to the story in most ways, and there are only a few changes to the story that those who like to sit and ponder such things could debate for hours (and they do on Amazon, trust me), but as far as accuracy, this film is about as close as you are going to get.
This film was really an independent release, and as such I had high hopes that the DVD would have some interesting special features. Instead there is nothing but the film on the disc, which is really a letdown. This is a film that I think would have really benefited from a director’s commentary or some actor interviews. Instead you get a film that comes in a lovely box, but gives you nothing else to look at.
And at 25 minutes long it really only has limited replay value.
This is a good film, and deserves to be watched. Fans of the original short story should enjoy the time spent on keeping the story as accurate as possible without direct mimicry, and the performances are all done rather well. However at 15 bucks on Amazon I still don’t feel it’s a good buy. Instead I’d recommend just renting this.